I remember, 23 years ago, an ignorant letter writer sending a disparaging letter to the Sunday Mail asking how Year Twelve students could possibly be stressed when they are only young and they could have 60 or 70 years of life ahead of them. That statement was almost like a kid I knew who said, wait for it, that Year Six was the most important year of your primary school education, and Year Seven (then the final year of primary school) was just revision. Well, how wrong could he be? In Year Seven, you do some revision, yes, but you also are prepared for high school.

I experienced two kinds of burnout at high school. At the end of Year Eight, I was burnt out by the stress of having to do subjects I detested and having to spend six hours a day with kids who stressed me out! One thing that I would like to add to the speech I want to give at the high school reunion is that if any of the attendees (I know we’re all heading towards 50, but some may be entering second families or welcoming grandchildren, or may even have young children still) hear their kids or grandkids referring to the kid sitting by themselves as “Nigel” (no mates) to call them out and ask them to consider two possibilities. One, the kid is autistic. And this is where the two possibilities come into play. One, the kid might appreciate you just saying “Hello,” and two, the kid might not have no mates, but after sitting in a classroom for 80 minutes to two hours, that kid might need some solitary time to decompress, so consider that, and that you may be pushing the kid to sensory overload. And that if you take a perverse pleasure in that, you should be ashamed of yourself.

Once I had entered holidays, I basically had to swap the sensory overload of being around kids I detested for having to do everything my brother wanted, like playing sport. Add to the equation, the fact that I experienced asthma and the specialist I saw had no concept of psychology, even if he did talk of a young doctor who died by her own hand, who told me to exercise and I had a mother who pushed me to it. She’d make me get up of a morning and do some outdated Canadian Air Force exercise program and go for a run, and then, in the afternoon, do 40 odd laps of the pool! And then, have to everything my brother wanted and denying me any time to myself!

At the end of Year Twelve, having studied subjects I enjoyed and having marks that reflected my efforts, when I submitted my final exam papers, I was tired. I was happy with my marks, but I remember, I submitted my last paper, Economics, and I was exhausted. When I got it back the next day, and I could go home, I was so tired, I just wanted to tidy up my room and listen to some music. My brother came home from school bursting for a game of golf, and my father, having the day off work, took him. What I needed was a relaxing time for myself, but I wasn’t to be allowed it.

If you’d either cruised through school or you didn’t care about your marks and were content to pass, you could do whatever you wanted after school. But when you had to really work for your marks (I wasn’t stupid, I could remember things, but schoolwork demands effort and I saw that some students who excelled in the lower years struggled in the senior years, whereas I was in the opposite category), by the time you’ve finished school, you’re tired.

What I would say to that letter writer is, at your point in your life, school might be a distant memory and you may have bought a house, raised a family and done so much more since, but if you can’t put yourself in the shoes of a 16–17 year old who is just about ready to leave school, and whose future depends upon their results, they shouldn’t be expressing ignorant opinions.

I remember feeling really tired after Year Twelve. I enjoyed reading, but I couldn’t take in much, after school. I needed to relax. I found some basic things taxing. What I didn’t need was to swap the demands of school for the demands of a pesky little brother who wanted to play cricket EVERY AFTERNOON. Okay, my brother had to not play his music loudly while I was studying, but that doesn’t mean that you can go from not talking to your brother much to monopolising your brother’s time.

If I’d had my time again, I would have wanted my parents to let me go for a beach escape for a few days after finishing school. Just letting me listen to music, watch TV and watch the world go by, with a few walks on the beach. That was what I needed. Not cricket, which I hated.

Diagnosed with autism at 35. Explained a lifetime of difference.